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Cunningham to be sentenced Friday

Former Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham finds out tomorrow what his punishment will be for bribery and tax evasion. Cunningham faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. For Cunningham's sake, it's good a federal judge will decide his fate and not his former constituents. They're enraged over his misdeeds. KPBS Legal Reporter Amita Sharma has the story.

Elena Gastellum of Carlsbad doesn't mince her words when it comes to what Cunningham did and how he should pay for it.

Gastellum: He's a thief, he stole. I look at the bribes of over $1 million, and it just makes politics worse than ever. And I'm so disappointed. He was once a highly respected congressman and doing this, you know the lavish homes, the antiques. It's a very sad, sad time but he stole. That should be the final word, 10 years, give him the max.

Cunningham's former district stretches from Oceanside in the north, down the coast to La Jolla, and east to the 15 Freeway. The common thread linking his former constituents is rage over the $2 million in bribes the ex-Congressman took in exchange for helping defense firms gets millions of dollars in contracts.

Outside Seaside Market in Cardiff last Friday afternoon, psychotherapist Emmy Garnica sat serenely talking to a friend after teaching a yoga class to seniors. But her calm quickly slipped away at the mere mention of Cunningham.

Garnica: I'm not sure 10 years is enough. I think white collar criminals. I shouldn't say murder. They get away with it and it enrages me.

Equally upsetting to many people living in the 50th district is the fa ade Cunningham put up as an upstanding congressman, while extracting bribes for himself that included homes, cash, cars and yachts. David Ludinsky, a retiree living in Encinitas, felt disbelief.

Ludinsky: I was overwhelmed. I was truly overwhelmed that he had the audacity to go ahead and continue to swindle people, just to push. He's got people who are coming back to him because they believed he's doing the right job. He wasn't doing the right job. Did you vote for him? Yes, I did three times.

For many, the fact that Cunningham had once served in the military as a fighter pilot who received honors makes his crimes all the more treacherous. Prosecutors say Cunningham used his war hero status to get elected and then hoisted a for-sale sign on the nation's capital. They want the judge to sentence him to 10 years in prison. Defense attorneys say Cunningham won't survive that length of time behind bars because of his bouts with prostate cancer, diabetes and depression.

Carmel Valley resident Dale Yonkie who owns a money management firm, has little sympathy.

Yonkie: It's unfortunate that his health isn't good and that he's 64-years old but no one forced him to do what he did. He made some choices and he's got to pay the consequences.

A psychiatrist working for the defense blamed Cunningham's greed on his sense of invulnerability that may have helped him in Vietnam but proved ill-suited to Washington politics. Defense lawyers say Cunningham's tearful admission of wrongdoing publicly ought to prompt the judge to reduce his sentence.
But realtor Rose Firsten of Cardiff is not sure she buys Cunningham's apologies.

Firsten: I'm not so sure he really understands the depth of what he did to everybody here. I don't see that remorse. I see more remorse for the loss of his life as he has known it. The loss of seeing his family on a daily basis. I see the remorse there more so than the crime he committed against us.

Many of the people in Cunningham's former district like office manager Jason Lee of Leucadia are looking to Federal Judge Larry Burns to tell the ex-Congressman at his sentencing just how deeply he's damaged public confidence.

Burns: I think he should be scolded. On a personal note, give him kind of an ass-chewing, excuse my French. But definitely chew him out and lecture him and tell him where he's wrong. I feel that my mother , my grandmother I mean we were all. It was misleading that he was helping us and he was just out for himself.

Voters in the 50th district go to the polls next month in a special election to choose a temporary replacement for Cunningham. They will get to choose a permanent successor in November. Carlsbad's Elena Gastellum has some advice for that person.

Gastellum: You better be clean. Enough of this dirty politics. Everyone will joke about it and make fun of dirty politics but it's not funny, not funny to taxpayers and it's' not good for our country.

Some like Tom Cousins of Carlsbad voiced hope that lawmakers would do away with earmarks, lobbyists, special interests, big money and remember they're in power to serve the people.

Others, more cynical urged Cunningham's replacement not to get caught. Amita Sharma, KPBS News.

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